Ben Smith reported:

A leading anti-gay figure in the Republican Party attacked Governor Mitt Romney for hiring an openly gay spokesman, sending a shot from the GOP’s socially-conservative base across the nominee’s bow.

Bryan Fischer, the director of issue analysis for the Tupelo, Miss.-based American Family Association, is probably the most straightforwardly anti-gay Republican to appear regularly in the party’s mainstream. Presidential candidates including Rick Santorum have appeared on his radio show, and he spoke at the Values Voter Summit in Washington in October.

He responded yesterday to Romney’s decision to hire an openly-gay — “out & loud gay,” in Fischer’s terms — foreign policy spokesman, Richard Grenell, by calling it a “message to the pro-family community” of “drop dead.”

At the Values Voter Summit, Smith recalls, Romney obliquely referenced Fischer and his ilk: “Our values ennoble the citizen and strengthen the nation. We should remember that decency and civility are values, too. One of the speakers who will follow me today has crossed that line, I think. Poisonous language doesn’t advance our cause. It’s never softened a single heart nor changed a single mind.” Both left- and right-leaning gay organizations defended Romney and Grenell.

Fischer’s ugly outburst was quickly followed by a slimy report by Romney-antagonist Matt Lewis in the Daily Caller asserting that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s appointment of a gay state Supreme Court court justice, Bruce Harris, was a blotch on his record and a problem for his vice presidential prospects. “With Mitt Romney under fire for hiring an openly gay spokesman, a growing chorus of conservatives are also voicing concern over his possible running mate’s appointment of an openly gay Republican to the New Jersey Supreme Court.”

The piece then goes on to cite conservatives who criticize his judicial philosophy, not his sexual orientation. So who has a problem with an openly gay justice — “conservatives” or Lewis?

There plainly is a debate generationally, as I have reported, within the GOP on gay marriage. But while this goes on, there should, one would hope, be a consensus that animus toward gays and toward hiring gays to work in government (or anywhere else) is beyond the pale. Pols like Rick Santorum and social conservative groups who don’t want to endorse Fischer’s brand of hate shouldn’t associate themselves with him.

In a January primary debate Romney said this on gay rights, as the Los Angeles Times reported:

Mitt Romney was reminded Sunday morning on the NBC/Facebook debate stage of a pledge he made in 1984, that he would “be a voice in the Republican Party to foster anti-discrimination efforts” in the gay community.

Asked how he had fulfilled that pledge, Romney said that as governor of Massachusetts, he had a gay cabinet member and appointed judges regardless of their sexual orientation.

From the very beginning, in 1994, I said to the gay community, ‘I do not favor same sex marriage,’ ” Romney said. “I oppose same sex marriage. But if people are looking for someone who will discriminate against gays or will in any way try and suggest that people that have different sexual orientations don’t have full rights in this country, they won’t find that in me.”

That actually is President Obama’s present position as well.

Romney’s remarks should serve as a guide for conservatives. It would be a positive thing for the party and our country if it was crystal clear there is no place in civil discourse for those fanning the flames of hatred toward gays and egging on fellow conservatives to discriminate against gays in hiring. Unfortunately, not everyone on the right agrees.